Thoughts from The Queen Bee

Posts tagged ‘handmade bath and body’

Your thoughts?


Good morning, all! BumbleBee Lane SoapWorks is in the thick of Christmas planning, and we could use your help…

Please leave us a comment telling us which of these fragrances you would like to see under your Christmas tree this year in our Deluxe Body Butter and Sugar & Shea Scrub…


Chocolate Mint

Sugar Cookie

Pumpkin Pie

Candy Cane


We will be randomly selecting one commenter to receive a Gift Set in the winning fragrance.

Thank you and happy Saturday!

The Skinny on Skin


One of the biggest misconceptions circulating on the Internet today is that our skin is a giant sponge, absorbing everything we put on it. This is so prevalent, that many people are more concerned about what they put on their body than they are about what they put in it. Last summer we sold our products at a local community market, and I was chuckling at the fact that customers were grilling me over every ingredient in my lotions, but purchased multiple canned and baked goods without inquiring as to the whether they contained trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, etc.

The reality is that our skin is designed to protect our bodies from the countless things that bombard it on a daily basis (heat, cold, dirt, pollution, bacteria, sun, wind), and keep things out of our bloodstream, while our digestive system is designed to process everything we eat into energy that is relayed directly into the bloodstream.

“Because 60% of what we put on our skin is absorbed into our bloodstream. That is why transdermal patches for medicines (nicotine, morphine, birth control, etc.) are so effective.”

I pulled this quote from a blog, which I will leave as anonymous as there are so many I could have chosen, and I’m not here to point fingers at inaccuracies or errors by another blogger. The reality is that it takes a lot of work to get medicine into the bloodstream, which may include potent penetration enhancer, application of electrical currents, or even patches containing micro needles, to push the drug through all the layers of the skin to the bloodstream. It also requires that it be covered to prevent evaporation, and the patch must be held securely against the body for a prolonged period of time, ranging from several hours to days. Even with these special measures, when a transdermal patch is removed, a high percentage of the drug that was on the patch initially remains on the patch.  A study done using the narcotic Fentanyl showed that after 3 days of continuous wear, up to 84% of the original dosage remained on the patch, requiring special disposal methods to prevent potential narcotic abuse.

Without the dermal patch and penetration enhancers, the absorption rate drops to around 4%.

This does not mean that we should stop caring about what we put on our skin, but we should definitely start thinking of it more as a Kevlar vest, which requires some effort to get through, rather than as a giant sponge….

How does this apply to products such as preservatives? The maximum recommended usage rate for preservatives in cosmetics is between .5% and 1%. If you purchase an 8 oz bottle of body lotion, then the maximum amount of preservative in the bottle is .08 oz. As no more than 4% of what we apply to our skin makes it through the dermal barrier, that means no more than .0032 oz of preservative makes it through the skin, with even less than that making it through into the bloodstream…..that’s less than 1/300th of an ounce of preservative if you use the entire bottle of lotion.

Compare that to the risk of contamination from preservative free lotions. I can hear the wheels turning….if so little of our lotion penetrates the skin and moves into our bloodstream, then the risk from using a preservative free lotion must be equally low, right? Yes and no. A contaminated lotion will penetrate our skin just as poorly as a preserved lotion, but there are two factors to consider: a small amount of preservative will not cause problems for a system that is designed to flush out what the body doesn’t need….preservatives are regarded by the body as a foreign substance. Bacteria, such as eColi, staphylococcus, and salmonella, however, are living organisms which immediately latch on to healthy cells and begin to multiply, and only a small amount is required to start the potentially deadly ball rolling.

The other wild card that we need to consider is that those absorption rates apply only to healthy skin. If the skin is damaged by a cut or has been compromised by illness, sunburn, or even dehydration, penetration will occur at a higher rate. This isn’t of too great a concern when we are speaking of the ingredients in a properly made lotion, but bacteria will take full advantage of any small chink in the body’s armour.

So, if you have a friend or relative who is chronically ill, suffers from eczema, or is going through chemotherapy, stay away from preservative free lotions or body butters. If you are still anti-preservative, a better choice would be an anhydrous (contains no water) product such as a whipped body butter. No water = no environment for bacteria and mold to grow.

Okay, this post is definitely approaching “run on” territory, so I’m going to leave the issue of the absorption of essential oils through the skin for tomorrow!

Further Reading:

Which bar of handmade soap should I buy?

(To my followers….my apologies if you receive this post twice. I accidentally deleted it after posting…should have had another cup of coffee!)
Hmmm….good question!
All you need to make soap is lye and an oil. However, if you make soap with only one oil, you won’t necessarily get what you’re looking for in a bar of soap. Each oil brings different things to the party.
For example, classic castile soap is made using only olive oil. This makes an extremely gentle soap, which is often recommended for children and those with sensitive skin. Sounds lovely, what’s the catch? Soap made with just olive oil is extremely soft, so it must cure for a minimum of 6 months to ensure that enough water evaporates from the bar to make it hard enough to last in the shower and not melt away into a puddle in your soap dish. Secondly, because olive oil is a very heavy oil, the lather may have a somewhat oily feel to it, which some people dislike, and there will not be a lot of lather.
A 100% coconut oil soap will be very cleansing, but using coconut oil as more than 30% of your total recipe will give you too much cleansing power, and your skin may be left feeling tight and dry. An all palm oil soap will be a very hard bar, but low on cleansing power and bubbles. Handmade soap recipes are carefully formulated to achieve the perfect balance of cleansing, lather, and hardness.
So how does the choice of ingredients affect the price of a bar of handmade soap? If you do a quick Google search for handmade soap, you will find literally thousands of soap makers from all around the world, with very little to distinguish between one and the other. The question I get asked most often is, “Why are some bars so cheap and some so expensive?”. There are a few things which contribute to the cost of a bar of handmade soap.
While doing your Google search, you will come across bars as small as 3 oz to some as big as 7 0z. The first thing you should do is divide the price of the soap by the number of ounces in the bar to get the cost per ounce for the soap. This ensures that you are comparing apples to apples.
The second thing to consider is ingredients. The list of possible oils to use in soap range from those at the lower end of the scale, such as corn oil, soy oil, canola oil and cottonseed oil, high end oils such as coconut oil, palm oil, and olive oil, and luxury ingredients such as cocoa butter, shea butter, babassu oil etc. The cost of a bar of soap is directly affected by the cost of the ingredients.
Next, take a look at fragrance. Are the bars scented with pure essential oils, or more inexpensive synthetic fragrance oils? If the soap maker has used essential oils, there can still be variations in the cost. For instance, the more expensive essential oils, such as patchouli and ylang ylang are available in 4 grades, and many oils, including lavender and rosemary can be sourced from many different countries. Bulgarian lavender is much more expensive than lavender grown in South Africa, and this price difference will be reflected in the final product pricing. Are the essential oils steam distilled or extracted with solvent?
How about botanical extracts? The best botanicals are grown on family farms, without pesticides and herbicides, harvested the old fashioned way and hung to dry. These botanicals will cost the soap maker more per pound than the alternatives that are grown on factory farms,  cultivated using chemicals and mechanically harvested and processed.  This will be reflected in the price of the bar of soap.
Lastly, look at packaging. You will find just as many different types of packaging as you will ingredients. There are bars wrapped in fabric and tied with twine; bars wrapped with a “cigar band” of cardstock, bars in boxes, shrink wrapped bars and those wrapped in fancy paper. All of these are good alternatives, the choice is a matter of personal taste, both on the part of the soap maker and the consumer.
The intangible that goes into the cost of a bar of soap is the time and effort on the part of the soap maker. Is the bar of soap simple and unadorned, or are there multiple colours, embeds, swirls and mounded tops? Each step added to the process should add to the cost of the final bar, as it decreases the number of bars that can be made during a given period of time. Most handmade soap makers do not take their time into account when calculating their Cost of Goods Sold, which means they set their selling price too low. While this seems like a great deal for the customer, ultimately if the selling price is too low, the business will not survive.
Some large retailers are now trying to cash in on the increasing popularity of the “all natural” movement by offering a line of handmade soap at a price which undercuts the small retailers. Don’t be sucked into this: look at the ingredients. Most likely you will find that they use one or two of the cheaper base oils, and you can be sure that they will have chosen the cheapest essential oil or fragrance oil they could find. Unfortunately, many people will buy this bar of soap, and will be left with the impression that handmade soap is nothing special.  On the contrary, a well balanced soap, handmade in small batches using quality ingredients is a purchase that you will never regret. Try it….you’ll never go back to commercial soap!
So better ingredients = more expensive bar of soap, right? Not always. Many artisans who create beautiful bars of soap using only the best ingredients price their soap too low in an effort to complete with the lowest priced product on the market, and some large brand name soaps are sold at exorbitant prices to cash in on the segment of the consumer market that believes anything expensive must be better.  So do your homework, read the labels, and if you find a bar of soap made with quality ingredients at a bargain price, do yourself a favour and buy regularly, or in quantity,  to ensure that your soap maker stays in business!

What is natural? (Part One)

The dictionary gives us several options for defining ‘natural’, but there is no official definition for its use in describing cosmetics or skin care products. To some people it’s natural if it comes from the earth. Others go further, and insist that it must be used in its’ unprocessed form. Some people say it must be green and growing to be natural, while others say it must contain nothing synthetic, or does it mean no chemicals?

There is really no right or wrong answer here. Everyone has their own definition of what natural means to them, and this applies to people who make handmade bath and body products as well. The trick is finding a manufacturer whose definition of natural is in line with your own.

So how do you do this?

The first step is defining it for yourself. I am going to speak specifically about handmade soap, but you can apply this to all handmade bath and beauty products.

The truth about soap is that in order to have a cleansing product, it needs to contain one of two things: lye, also known as sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, or synthetic detergents, which are defined as “A cleansing substance that acts similarly to soap but is made from chemical compounds rather than fats and lye.” ( Without one of these two substances, you’re doomed to be dirty, unless you are prepared to hunt down a soapwort plant, chop up the leaves and roots and boil it with water to produce a liquid cleansing solution.

Some soapmakers will tell you that they make “lye-free” soap. This is impossible. The alternatives to traditional cold (CP) or hot (HP) processed soap are 1) Melt and pour soap, or 2) glycerin soap. Melt and pour soap is made by purchasing a soap base from a supplier, melting it down and putting it in molds. All melt and pour soap bases are made using either CP or HP, and therefore were produced by combining lye and oils. Glycerin is a substance which is produced during the traditional soapmaking process. Large commercial manufacturers realized many years ago that they could double their revenue by siphoning off the highly moisturizing glycerin and selling it separately, rather than leaving it in the soap. So glycerin is also produced by combining oils and lye.

So what are sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide? They are chemical compounds created by passing an electrical current through sodium chloride (common table salt) or potassium chloride. They would look a little less scary on the label if we could just list them as salt, but Canada, the United States, and Europe have all adopted legislation requiring standard INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) in an attempt to ensure transparency in labeling.

So salt is not a bad thing to have in your soap, but if you’re still leery of it, rest assured that there is no active lye remaining in a well crafted and cured bar of soap. Soap and glycerin are what’s left after the lye and the oils go through the chemical reaction known as saponification. Remember your high school chemistry with the cute little diagrams of molecules with two ends which run around looking for another end to attach themselves to? If you are buying from a careful soapmaker who has taken the time to properly learn the craft, they have ensured that their recipe contains the correct amount of oils to ensure that each and every molecule of the lye has found it’s little mate and become a happy soap couple!

Back to the INCI that I mentioned above. There are 2 legally acceptable methods of listing lye on a soap label. The easiest and most transparent method, that we have chosen to use at BumbleBee Lane SoapWorks, is to simply list either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, along with the various oils. The other method is to list sodium palmitate ( the fatty acid produced by the saponification of palm oil) sodium cocoate (the fatty acid produced by the saponification of coconut oil), etc. Anytime you see sodium or potassium cocoate, olivate, palmitate etc., it indicates the presence of both lye and the respective vegetable oil.

Sometimes you will see ingredients as containing saponified oils of palm, olive, coconut, etc. While this does not comply with labeling laws, it is just another way of saying there is lye in the product without having to put those scary, chemical words on the label. Saponified oil of palm is palm oil which has gone through the saponification process produced by adding it to lye. So no matter how its listed, they all mean the same thing.

So we’ve seen that the ingredients for making soap are pretty basic and natural. how did we end up with the explosion of cleansing products packed full of chemicals that we have today? Post World War II saw great changes in our lives for various reasons. Many women who had gone to work in the factories to support the war effort chose not to return to their traditional housewife roles. This was the start of our ongoing constant struggle to balance work outside the house with work at home, and led to manufacturers looking for ways to make things easier and faster. Chemists who had been working flat out to produce better weapons, were now coming back to the commercial world, and looking for ways to put their knowledge and experience to use at home. Coming out of the austerity of the war years, people were looking for more luxury and beauty in their lives. All of these factors combined to fuel the race to make things, easier, faster, cheaper and prettier.

How does this apply to soap? Well, someone decided that we didn’t have time to be scrubbing soap residue off of bathtubs, discovered that they could make cheaper, synthetic substitutes for soap, and had the bright idea of convincing the consumer that more bubbles equated to better cleansing power. Manufacturers were looking for something to set their product apart from all of the others, so they started selling us on fantasies….they used chemistry to fix non-existent problems, and here we are!

So now we know what goes into a basic bar of soap, tomorrow we’ll start looking at the rest of those mysterious ingredients you might find on the label.

Mike Michalowicz

Thoughts from The Queen Bee


Thoughts from The Queen Bee

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